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Julian Simon’s theories are alive and well

By Linda Platts

PERC Fellows along with many other natural resource economists congratulate New York Times science writer and columnist John Tierney for winning a wager that took five years to resolve. It resembles the famous 1980 bet between economist Julian Simon and ecologist Paul Ehrlich about the future price of natural resources.

Tierney plans to celebrate New Year’s Day by collecting $5000 in honor of the late economist Simon, who believed in the creativity and ingenuity of the human mind to solve humanity’s problems. Tierney will share the winings with Simon’s widow in a  joint celebration.

Five years ago, Tierney, a self-described Cornucopian optimist, wagered $5000 with Matthew R. Simmons, a well-respected energy expert, and, from Tierney’s perspective, a Malthusian pessimist. Simmons predicted the cost of oil, then selling at $65 a barrel, would more than triple to $200 a barrel; Tierney on the other hand believed the increase would be modest. With oil now selling at about $80 a barrel, Tierney came out on top.

The bet was inspired by an earlier and now famous wager between Simon and Ehrlich. Ehrlich predicted that between 1980 and 1990 scarcity would drive resource prices up while Simon bet that progress would push prices down. Simon argued that natural resources are not finite, but rather created by the intellect of man, an always renewable resource. Simon, one of the original Cornucopian optimists, won that bet.

PERC continues its work in the spirit of Julian Simon doing the research that advances Simon’s optimistic view about the future of humanity. The fully funded PERC Julian Simon Fellowship is one of the nation’s most prestigious opportunities for scholars to develop policy-oriented research on natural resource and environmental conservation. The in-residence fellowship is intended to continue the legacy of the late Julian Simon, whose research led to a massive re-evaluation by scholars and policy makers of their views on the interplay between population, natural resources, and the environment.

The ideal candidate for this fellowship is someone like Simon; an excellent scholar with a focus on empirical work and an imaginative research agenda that emphasizes natural resource and environmental issues. Visit our web site for more information about the fellowship..

To learn more about John Tierney’s optimism and wagering habits, check The New York Times. For some background and useful charts, check out Mark J. Perry of the American Enterprise Institute at two places, One and Two.

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